Biography of Mark Carley

Mark Carley was one of the founders of the city of Champaign: His name appears again and again in connection with the early annals of that city and of Champaign County, and always he appears as a man of force, of almost unlimited enterprise and of a public spirit that was in keeping with his many successes in private life. He knew much of the world by experience and had come to Champaign County soon after returning from an excursion to California during the great gold excitement on the Pacific Coast. His own life was to a large degree the expression of those forces’ accumulated and inherited by him from a notable American ancestry.

The Carleys were staunch and patriotic New Englanders. Mark Carley was born at Hancock in Hillsboro County, New Hampshire, August 24, 1799. He was a son of Elijah and Agnes (Graham) Carley and a grandson of Joseph and Sarah (Washburn) Carley. He was thus related to the Washburns whose names appear frequently in New England history, and from the same family came the Washburns who were conspicuous in the early days of Illinois. The Carleys were of Scotch-Irish ancestry. They settled in America long before the Revolution, and one of the cherished possessions of the descendants is a discharge paper signed by George Washington and granting release from the Continental Army to Jonathan Carley, an uncle of the late Mark Carley. By kinship and social ties the Carleys were closely connected with many of the leading families of the New England states and also in the states of New York, Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois. Among such families were the Stevensons of Vermont, prominent in Colonial and Revolutionary history, the Harrimans, the Fisks, the Lawsons and the Kendalls. There were also the Goulds and Boutons of Chicago. Louise Carley Lawson, a sister of Mark Carley, acquired marked distinction as an artist in her generation. She was the wife of Professor L. M. Lawson, dean of the Medical College of Ohio and later of the Medical College of Lexington, Kentucky.

When Mark Carley was eleven years of age his parents removed from New Hampshire to Vermont. He grew up in the hills of that State and his education was confined to the practical branches of learning taught in the public schools and to such experience as he could acquire. As a youth he learned the trade of carpenter and millwright. At the age of twenty, leaving home, he spent a brief time in the province of New Brunswick and then set sail for New Orleans. The vessel carrying him was wrecked and the passengers landed at Savannah, Georgia. From there he crossed to Havana, Cuba, and finally arrived at New Orleans April 24, 1820. In Louisiana Mark Carley had an extensive experience building mills and cotton gins. While there he learned to speak fluently the language of the French Creoles.

In 1830, during one of his visits to the North, he married Abigail Wetherbee Stevens. In 1837 Mark Carley established his home in Clermont County, along the Ohio River, in southern Ohio. There he acquired large interests as a land holder, farmed them, and also engaged in boating on the Ohio River.

In 1850 Mark Carley left his property interests in southern Ohio and crossed the plains to the gold fields of California. Here his qualities of leadership made him a marked man among the fearless and democratic element of that State. He was chosen judge of the Minors’ Court and was prominent in regulating public affairs in the district where his own operations were.

In 1853 Mark Carley came to Champaign County and located at Urbana. He erected the first dwelling house in the city of Champaign, and also constructed the first grain warehouse there. He introduced the first steam engine for the operation of his elevator. A number of other business enterprises and buildings were the direct result of his enterprise and capital, and several buildings are still standing in Champaign as a monument to this pioneer. Some years later Mark Carley built the fine old homestead at 134 West Church Street, which is now occupied by his granddaughter, Martha Kincaid Weston.

Mark Carley was an ardent Whig and admirer of Henry Clay. Among the heirlooms left by him is an ivory snuff-box which was presented to him by the great Kentucky statesman. He naturally gravitated into the Republican party when that was formed, and the most distinguished visitor who ever graced the old homestead at 134 West Church Street was Abraham Lincoln.

Mark Carley lived vigorously throughout a long lifetime. He was nearly eighty-nine years of age when he passed away at his home in Champaign, February 3, 1888. His wife died November 12, 1871. They were the parents of three children: Mrs. Mary A. Carley Kincaid; Mrs. Isotta Carley Mahan of Kenwood, Chicago, but now a resident of Los Angeles; and Graham Carley, who was an important capitalist and man of affairs and died in Hyde Park, Chicago, Illinois, in 1893.

Mary A. Carley, oldest child of the late Mark Carley, was born in Clermont County, Ohio, and was married in Ohio in August, 1851, to the late Dr. Samuel W. Kincaid. Dr. Kincaid was born at West Union, in Adams County, Ohio, July 15, 1823, a son of Judge John Kincaid. His brother, Hon. W. P. Kincaid, for several years represented his Ohio district in Congress. The Kincaid family is descended from the Lairds of Kincaid of Stirlingshire, Scotland. The first Kincaid in America was Captain John Kincaid, who located in Virginia in 1707. He was a native of the north of Ireland, while his wife, Margaret Lockhart, was born in Scotland. Their son, Captain James Kincaid, was a gallant Revolutionary soldier and married a niece of James Wilson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Dr. S. W. Kincaid was liberally educated in the schools of Cincinnati, and entering the Medical College of Ohio was graduated M. D. with the class of 1853. Soon afterward he removed to Ohio and began practice at Tolono in Champaign County. In 1855 he removed to Champaign, then known as West Urbana, and was a prominent figure in professional circles for a number of years. He finally retired from practice and returned to his old boyhood home in Ohio, where he died. Mrs. Kincaid died in Champaign, February 3, 1907. She was the mother of four children: Annie, Carley and Frank, all deceased; and Martha K.

Martha Kincaid is the widow of Charles Weston, who graduated from the University of Illinois as president of his class of 1876 and subsequently was elected auditor of the State of Nebraska. Mrs. Weston, as already mentioned, occupies the old homestead of her grandfather and has many of the family heirlooms connected with the Carley lineage. She is a cultured woman and has long been prominent in musical affairs in Champaign. She is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and of the Colonial Dames, and is eligible to the Mayflower Society as well. Mrs. Weston’s mother was also a member of the Colonial Dames.



Stewart, J. R. A Standard History of Champaign County Illinois. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York. 1918.

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